i find myself wondering if it is even appropriate to let the news affect me so deeply.. after all it is not my personal loss. none of us are immune to pain or loss. of course we spend so much energy trying to avoid thoughts or reminders of the hardest lessons life has to teach us but none-the-less we will all lose it all eventually. but should we allow ourselves to feel the pain of others when it is not our time.. perhaps we are still healing old wounds, perhaps we will suffer immeasurable loss in the future. yoga is about cultivating contentment and presence in THIS moment, right? where then do the boundaries of us and them, ours and theirs, this present moment and an imagined world lie?
yoga (both tantric and patanjali) teaches of the four immeasureables (brahmavihara), said to be the four attitudes that we should cultivate to find peace in this lifetime and seen as powerful antidotes to negative mental states. a cornerstone of my practice on and off the mat as well as in my teaching, they are:
1. loving kindness or friendliness towards those that are happy
2. compassion towards those that are suffering
3. delight in the virtuous accomplishments of others
and 4. equanimity or balance in the face of the confusion of others
(other translations abound but after a bit of research these are the translations that resonate with me most and seem to me to be the most useful as well as the most in line with yogic view/intentions)
these have been extremely helpful many times when difficult questions/interactions arise for me in the past. so i've been thinking about the second (compassion) these days, after hearing the news, as i find myself contemplating this grave loss that will effect so many within the family and community but especially the parents of that young one.
i began wondering if i know what compassion really means. actually. what it looks like, what it acts like. it's something we hear about a lot, especially in yoga/meditation circles but it's not something we typically get instruction on or even a definition of. we know it's supposed to be a good thing.. but what is it?? and outside yogic circles it's perhaps just a quaint, bothersome, outdated idea that sounds like a lot of trouble and time wasted, never mind something that is taught or explained!
i decided to just look up some definitions. here's what i found. perhaps it will be helpful for you too:
compassion ~ sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. and similarly,
a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
sympathy ~ an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other. and also, the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
it was important for me to realize that compassion comes in two parts. yes, compassion does actually involve the resonance of another's experience of suffering as one's own, as well as the desire to lessen it. it could be easy (for myself and perhaps others), with the teachings of santosha (contentment with what is) and vairagya (detachment), to believe that one should not allow oneself to feel intense emotions or should try to "focus on the positive" of life in a pollyanna-meets-harikrishna type mode of relating to the world around us.
but the brahmavihara are primary in both the sutras and tantric action/meditation. so how do they fit together?
as Patty Townsend teaches, santosha, contentment does not imply non-action.
we are involved in the karma of the world as it presents itself to us one way or another. turning a blind eye does not breed contentment. it actually breeds fear and anxiety. it is dissociative and a huge contributing factor in the ills of the world as we know it. it is the opposite of the yoking, the drawing together that we seek in yoga. contentment implies honesty (satya) with oneself about what is and a commitment to act/practice (abhyasa). in a case like this although there may be no clear line of action to diminish the suffering of a lost beloved, being present to the feelings that it arouses in me and speaking honestly from that place of a desire to lessen the grief becomes the action. not running away from the feelings or attempting to cover them up is the practice. dissociate means to dis-associate, to come out of relationship. what is healing is to establish and acknowledge the relationship to what is (especially within the confines of our own bodymind).
vairagya, detachment, is sometimes taught as emotionlessness, or passionlessness. a more useful application is to not be governed solely by emotions and passions, not to be at their whim, so to speak. but we can NOT be fully embodied, fully human, fully present if we dissociate from the powerful teachers of our emotions, our desires and even our passions. as i've heard some say, it's whether you are using them (emotion, desire) or they are using you. in this or similar challenges i think the practice of vairagya is applied in the realization that reality happens, tremendous suffering happens and although it can seem so useless to feel that when there is nothing that "can be done" to change it, the challenge of presence is to be with what is, whatever it is, no matter how uncomfortable. no matter how much we'd like for things to be different or be able to save someone from their suffering or avert our own suffering, to let go of our expectations, to feel the intensity with out collapsing, to accept that the universe is doing things differently than we would like or choose... this i believe is vairagya in the sense that brings us closer to a place of presence, balance and the ultimate promise of unity and connection that yoga offers.
may we all be free of suffering and the root of suffering.
may we enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
may we respond to our own suffering and the suffering of others with care and grace.
copyright lakota sandoe 2013
this post is dedicated to the beautiful baby boy that i never knew except in pictures but so obviously brought worlds and worlds of color and light and joy to all those around him. to his brother and sister, and especially to his father and mother.. may they be supported in their time of heartbreak and the love and light of his memory quickly return to their lives and overshadow the grief, coloring their days always.
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI.